Messiaen, Turangalîla-Symphonie / L'Ascension, F. Weigel, T. Bloch, Polish Radio Orchestra and Chorus, A. Wit
Messiaen, Turangalîla-Symphonie, Y. Loriod, J. Loriod, Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille, M.-W. Chung
The sprawling Turangalîla-Symphonie is a dazzling, even stultifying piece that merits all of the epithets, kind and unkind, leveled at it over the years: most famously, Boulez dismissed it as "bordello music" for its obvious orgasmic moments (inspired by Messiaen's love for Yvonne Loriod, who would become his second wife) and Stravinsky said the work contained more embarrassment than riches ("plus d'embarras que de richesses") adding that "little more is needed to write such music than a copious supply of ink." Like so much of Messiaen's music, it binds together an impossible number of references and influences -- Indian rhythmic patterns, bird song, Tristan and Isolde, and much more -- with a vast orchestral palette, almost too large, too loud to absorb with the human ear. To hear it in live performance, even a less than perfect one like that led by Eschenbach, is an unforgettable experience.
Tristan Murail. Murail's sound was sultry in places, but could also be piercingly loud, with a slight dull ring in my right ear the following morning indicating that the amplification level was set too high for comfortable listening. On the virtuosic piano part, central enough to the work that it is sometimes considered a piano concerto, Cédric Tiberghien was both suave and manic, if at times too reserved when he needed to be crushingly loud. The orchestra was at its best in the more savage parts, like the low brass's rocky solidity in the "statue theme," which Messiaen said reminded him of ancient Mexican sculpture. I think of the tzomplanti, the skull rack, at the Aztec Templo Mayor, which resonates with the wild clatter of percussion in the creepy seventh movement, evoking the horrors of Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum.
The slow passages were appropriately suspended beyond time, especially the sixth movement ("Jardin du sommeil d'amour"), which Eschenbach took at an especially glacial tempo, allowing the bird songs (nightingale, blackbird, garden warbler, according to Messiaen) in the piano an almost languorous lack of affect. (In the conversation with members of the audience after the performance, Eschenbach said he wished that this movement was twice as long, which explains his tempo choice. It left at least one child in the audience sound asleep, as her father carried her out of the hall.) Only the dance movements, especially where there were many shifts of meter like the tenth, sounded off-kilter occasionally -- at least some of the problems were minor conflicts between the glockenspiel, celesta, and piano, grouped together at the front of the stage but not always in sync with one another. It was a significant achievement, a sign of just how big Eschenbach's thinking is for the NSO's future, if not quite a great performance.
Robert Battey, 'Turangalila's' majestic sweep soars above the flaws (Washington Post, March 11)
Terry Ponick, Where Messiaen and Radiohead converge (Washington Times, March 10)
This concert will be repeated this evening (March 12, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.